Live at Perkins' Palace
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2004, Volume 11, #12
Written by John Metzger
The good news for fans of Banyan is that the group is definitely making strides towards better exploring the textures of its music. The bad news is that Live at Perkins’ Palace, the collective’s third effort, still falls far short of the monumental jazz-fusion recordings of Miles Davis. Unlike Henry Kaiser and Wadada Leo Smith, who have been mining Davis’ universe with extraordinarily effective results, Banyan seems to struggle, at times, with fully cutting loose, and despite its attempts to work within a broad stylistic spectrum — the enraged funk of Mad as a Hornet, the Spanish-tinged Om Om Om, the space-y freak-out of King of Long Beach, and the Middle Eastern musings of El Sexxo, for example — the mood it ultimately paints with its frenetic grooves becomes redundantly one-dimensional. Indeed, within the set’s 12 songs, there’s an overriding ambience of ominous angst. Although trumpeter Willie Waldman does his best to illuminate the proceedings with his jazz-oriented inflections — which are met in part by drummer Stephen Perkins’ sculpted rhythms — both bass player Mike Watt and guitarist Nels Cline are more intent upon pursuing their own funk and noise-rock inclinations. While Banyan’s desire to modernize the sound of ’70s fusion with splashes of metallic grunge is certainly noble, the disconnect among its members frequently stands in the way of any semblance of fully integrated interaction. Consequently, Banyan remains a better rock group than a jazz ensemble. On the other hand, at least it’s trying to do something different, rather than rumble over the same, tired alt-rock terrain, and in the end, there are enough moments on Live at Perkins’ Palace that work well enough to lend credence to the notion that perhaps Banyan is on the right track.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box